My Favourite Brownie Recipe

I just love baking brownies and they’re one of the first things to go when I have a stall.  Not that I’ve done many stalls recently.  My family love my brownies and they’re always popular when I’ve taken them into schools where I teach in the past.  I still laugh my head off from the marriage proposal I got once from a man who bought a pack of my brownies from my stall.  He came back about half an hour later having eaten the brownies, bought another pack and asked if he could marry me!  Sorry, but I’m already taken!

Anyway, it’s always fun baking brownies and I bake loads of different versions.  My most popular varieties are the plain ones, my Maya Gold ones and the Oreo cookie ones.  I experimented with using Green and Blacks Maya Gold chocolate in them a couple of years back and loved the taste.  I now have a baby niece called Maya so one day maybe I can teach Maya to bake them!  The Oreo cookie ones are so naughty but nice as well, though.

SmartCookieSam’s Favourite Brownies

100g  good quality chocolate of your choice

150g unsalted butter

125g plain flour

15g cocoa powder

300g soft light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch of salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large, free range eggs

100g chopped nuts/ chocolate chips/ dried fruit, Oreo cookie pieces/ Smarties or similar.

This recipe is so adaptable.  For instance if you want to have mint brownies, use a good quality bar of mint chocolate.  I recommend Lindt Intense or one similar where the mint flavour comes from crispy bits, not fondant like an After Eight Mint.  Instead of vanilla extract, use a good quality peppermint extract. Just remember to keep the quantities the same.  Let your imagination run wild!

Preheat the oven to 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas 4.  Grease and line the base of a loose bottom square baking tin (mine is about 8″ square). I swear by Wilton Cake Release available from Lakeland to help here!

Break up the chocolate into squares and add the butter in cubes. Melt the butter and chocolate over a saucepan of barely simmering water or if you prefer use the microwave.  I must admit I use the microwave. I put the chocolate to melt for 1 minute, then take it out, stir it and put it back in for 10 second intervals. Works for me.

Allow the chocolate to cool slightly and then sieve the cocoa powder, plain flour, baking powder and salt into another mixing bowl.

In yet another mixing bowl, beat the eggs and add the brown sugar in, along with the vanilla extract.  Stir the ingredients together but until they are just combined. Make sure there isn’t any flour visible.

Finally, fold in the melted chocolate along with any additional ingredients, such as Oreo cookies.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes.  Brownies should be chewy and gooey inside, so don’t overbake them.

Let the brownies cool in the tin before you cut them into squares.  I usually get 16 squares from a batch.  Now try to keep them from being scoffed all at once!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Carrot and Apple Cake with a Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.

You can’t beat a good carrot cake can you? Well maybe there are lots of other favourite cakes out there but I can’t resist carrot cake.  I’ve baked lots of them over the years and tried different recipes.

I’ve been enjoying testing out a few recipes from Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake” recently.  Our neighbouring village had it’s Spring Festival a couple of weekends ago and I always like to donate a cake or few to the cafe that the PTA run in the primary school hall.  As my son went to that school a few years back I always like to support it as he had such a happy time there.

Carrot Cakes always seem to be popular with lots of people and this one from Lorraine Pascale was no exception. This version contains not only grated carrots but also some grated apple.  This works extremely well with carrot and adds some natural sweetness. To add maple syrup to the cream cheese frosting was also a delicious touch which worked really well.

On the Saturday morning, the day before the Spring Festival I got up really early.  It had been a crazy busy week working full time teaching a Reception class in a local school and I was due to be there another week afterwards.   The night before I had gone off to bed at 9.30pm absolutely exhausted and laid there thinking would I have time to get everything done over the weekend? Thank heavens it was a Bank Holiday that weekend. I was up at 6am and was already baking.  I had to be at my beauty therapist friend’s house for my appointment at 10am and I had to have a headstart.  I find if I get up early without distractions then I get loads done.

I was so grateful to the grating attachment on my new food processor to help me out with grating the carrots and the apple.  I don’t mind grating by hand but I was in a rush and getting a machine to do the hard work really helped to cut the time down.  The carrots and apple came out a little bit chunkier than I would have liked but it did add to the texture of the cake.  In other carrot cakes I’ve added walnuts or pecan nuts but this one doesn’t contain nuts at all. It doesn’t have any dried fruit in either, like raisins or sultanas.

The recipe itself is simple to put together as all the ingredients are weighed out and put into one bowl.  This includes using vegetable oil as the fat instead of butter as is traditionally seen in a carrot cake or a muffin mixture.  Along with this was some light brown soft sugar, eggs, the apple and carrot, some self raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, cinnamon and some vanilla extract.

When all the batter had been mixed together it was divided between two greased and lined circular loose bottomed sandwich tins. The cakes were then baked in my oven for about 30-35 minutes at around 160oC in my fan oven. While they were baking I went upstairs, sorted out some washing, put some washing away and tried to get my son’s uniform ironed for work. All while I kept an eye and an ear out for the oven timer.

Half an hour or so later the cakes were ready and out of the oven.  I left them to cool in their tins on the work top on top of a wire rack and headed down to see my friend to get my nails done.

In the afternoon I got round to decorating the carrot cake.  The frosting was a traditional cream cheese one but with the addition of maple syrup. Maple syrup goes beautifully with carrot cake and I was happy I had just enough in the cupboard from pancake day.  I’m not the neatest cake decorator and to be honest I found it really tricky to keep my frosting neat. My mum was standing next to me watching me ice it and she got her fork out and fluffed up the icing.  This wasn’t the original way I wanted to decorate the cake with neat, smooth edges but the more I tried to smooth the icing the more it wanted to fall off!  To finish off I used a dozen sugar carrots bought from a pack found in the supermarket a few weeks back.

The following morning I dropped all three cakes baked down at the school.  They were gratefully received and to help the servers in the cafe I pre-cut the cakes for them.  When my mum and I went back down to the festival a couple of hours later I noticed that the carrot cake had completely gone. It had sold out.  That made me so happy.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Blooming Brownies from Lorraine Pascale’s “A Lighter Way To Bake”

I have always been a huge fan of Lorraine Pascale ever since I first saw her TV series “Baking Made Easy” a couple of years back.  Since then I have bought her books and enjoyed making her no-fuss, yet utterly delicious recipes.  We love both her savoury and sweet recipes and can’t get enough of them.

So a couple of months back I was excited to hear that Lorraine was bringing out another baking book and it would be featuring “favourites that you could enjoy everyday”, in other words it would be a baking book that features our best loved classics but made a bit lighter so we can enjoy them without feeling that we are being naughty.  As a serial dieter who manages to lose a few pounds and then promptly puts them back on again, I thought this book sounded like a great idea.  I will be reviewing the book in the next week or so, so watch this space!

The front cover of Lorraine Pascale's fab new book "A Lighter Way To Bake".
The front cover of Lorraine Pascale’s fab new book “A Lighter Way To Bake”.

Of course this does not mean you can trough the whole plate of brownies or cookies- far from it. It just means you can enjoy one and it is a little bit better for you than a standard bake.  I absolutley detest shop bought “low-fat” type cakes and biscuits.  They taste awful, are usually packed with extra sugar and other rubbish to compensate for the lack of fat and are usually so sickly sweet you are left with a huge headache after eating them.  I would rather have something small and home-made instead.

So, last Sunday afternoon for our usual Sunday lunch pudding I decided to put one of Lorraine’s “Lighter Bake” recipes to the test.  I chose to go for the “Blooming Brownies” on page 164.

Lorraine says in the recipe introduction that “the outcome is a much lighter brownie, with a slightly more cakey taste, but it’s still the right sort of naughtiness to feel that you are getting a tasty treat,”

Here’s how I made the Blooming Brownies.  I made mine into a Mint Chocolate version as I had a bar of Lindt Chocolate Mint Intense in my cupboard and no plain chocolate left.

First butter was melted in a small pan over medium heat.
First butter was melted in a small pan over medium heat.
I used a bar of Lindt Mint Chocolate Intense pg of good quality milk chocolate. This one was from Waitrose.
I used a bar of Lindt Mint Chocolate Intense pg of good quality milk chocolate. This one was from Waitrose.
Once the butter had melted and was taken off the heat, I added in the chunks of chocolate.  These melted from the heat of the hot butter.
Once the butter had melted and was taken off the heat, I added in the chunks of chocolate. These melted from the heat of the hot butter.
Three whole eggs plus two extra egg whites were whisked with my hand held electric mixer. Sugar was added bit by bit and mixed in carefully.
Three whole eggs plus two extra egg whites were whisked with my hand held electric mixer. Sugar was added bit by bit and mixed in carefully.
Here's the melted chocolate- gorgeous!
Here’s the melted chocolate- gorgeous!
The wet ingredients were then folded in with  some wholemeal flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda.
The wet ingredients were then folded in with some wholemeal flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda.
The mixture was poured into a well greased and lined loose bottomed square tin.
The mixture was poured into a well greased and lined loose bottomed square tin.

The brownies were baked in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.
The brownies were baked in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.
The brownies were cut up into 16 squares. I dusted them with a small sprinkling of icing sugar.
The brownies were cut up into 16 squares. I dusted them with a small sprinkling of icing sugar.
The leftovers were put into an airtight container to go into the freezer though my son did take a couple before they got put in there!
The leftovers were put into an airtight container to go into the freezer though my son did take a couple before they got put in there!

So, the verdict?  Lighter Bake Brownies versus my own “standard” ones?  Lorraine compares her lighter version with another recipe she has in Baking Made Easy for her Oreo Cookie Crumble Brownies.  These have been a massive hit when we have made them in our house before.  My own brownie recipe I use uses much more sugar but less eggs, more butter, less chocolate and less cocoa powder but more flour. The result is definitely more fudgy and chewy.  Lorraine was absolutely right in saying that these are more “cakey” but this did not put me off. In fact it was great to have the delicious chocolate hit without the over powering sweetness or the artificial “low fat” shop bought taste.  The rest of my family loved the brownies too and couldn’t tell the difference.  I thought one square at 165 calories was great, you could indulge without feeling “naughty”.  I had to hide the rest though!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Raspberry Crumble Shortbread- The Great British Bake Off Everyday

As I’m typing it’s a Friday afternoon here, the rain is tumbling down and I have cakes in the oven for tomorrow’s York Clandestine Cake Club event at the Hobbycraft store on the Monks’ Cross retail park.  I’m trying to catch up on my blogging which is seriously behind.  I’ve had a good excuse this week though as I have gone back to work in my day job as a teaching assistant after the summer break.  I don’t usually work on a Friday though so today is my catch up day!

On Monday we started back at school with our staff training day. We usually have a shared lunch on training days if we are school based and I normally provide the pudding or the cake.  I chose to make two bakes from the new Great British Bake Off recipe book The Great British Bake Off Everyday that wouldn’t be too rich and sickly sweet, yet I hoped would taste nice for my work colleagues!

First up was some delicious sounding Raspberry Crumble Shortbread Squares.

Butter weighed out about to be cut into small cubes for the shortbread mixture.
Butter weighed out about to be cut into small cubes for the shortbread mixture.
The butter and sugar are creamed together with my hand held mixer.
The butter and sugar are creamed together with my hand held mixer.
Flour was added to the creamed mixture and combined.
Flour was added to the creamed mixture and combined.
Formed into a ball of dough.
Formed into a ball of dough.
I let the shortbread rest for a little while when I went off to bake something else.
I let the shortbread rest for a little while when I went off to bake something else.
Three quarters of the shortbread mixture was placed in the bottom of a greased square tin. I used a fork to prick the bottom of it.
Three quarters of the shortbread mixture was placed in the bottom of a greased square tin. I used a fork to prick the bottom of it.

Note to self: when baking a recipe you have never baked before, please read the recipe carefully. As the recipe involved looking at another shortbread recipe, one for plain shortbread over on the previous page, baking it to a certain point in the recipe, then continuing with the raspberry one I got very confused and made up all the dough into one big ball. Instead I separated it afterwards , having a large and a small ball of dough. The small ball of dough was meant to stay as crumbs (or is this down to confusing recipes)? This meant that when I added the topping to the shortbread, it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the whole shortbread.  The shortbread looked very rustic but with a few slivered almonds thrown on it wasn’t so bad.

This is one of the recipes which doesn’t have an accompanying picture to it which is frustrating. I would have had SOME idea about how my shortbread was MEANT to look instead of just guessing!

The remaining dough was kept behind to become the topping.
The remaining dough was kept behind to become the topping.
066
Nearly a whole jar of raspberry jam went into the shortbread filling!

The book contains a recipe for Raspberry and Redcurrant Jam on the following page to the Raspberry Crumble Shortbread recipe.  It is meant to be used as the filling for the shortbread or for scones but I did not have time to make my own jam as well. Instead I had a jar of raspberry jam which I had bought a few days previously and told everyone to keep off!

074
Here is the cooked shortbread just out of the oven and cooling on the top of the cooker before being turned out of the tin.
075
The shortbread was cut up into 12 large chunks and put into a tin to take to work the following day!

I was very pleased with the way the shortbread turned out in the end, although when it first came out of the oven I was a bit sceptical.  It looked much better when cut up and I am pleased it went down at work. We had a slice at breaktime with our coffee and I brought the box back out at lunchtime as an alternative to the other cakes which were on offer.

I will definitely make this shortbread recipe again as my children wanted to try it as well.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx